Thursday, March 08, 2007

My Own Contribution

I really don't consider myself an expert in anything. As I've said before, I dabble. There have been periods in my life when I have concentrated more on one thing than another, but that hardly makes me an expert. Over the past year or so, one of the subjects that I have had the pleasure of reading up further on (syntactical nightmare, that was) is sociology. The way that we humans interact with each other, whether at the skating rink or with more techie means, fascinates me. Sometimes none of it seems rational, until I realize that "rationality" is a slippery word. As Alasdair McIntyre asks, "Whose Rationality?"

Anyway, my own little contribution to sociology, which I'm sure is one of the first things you learn in SOC 101 (which I've not taken), is this: to create lasting local prosperity, you must have a vibrant artisan class. Too many thinkers and nothing gets done. Too many merchants and junk is the end product. However, a healthy, creative class that must both think and sell to their neighbors on the small scale can help bring beauty to a place. What if the local carpenters had the expertise for beautiful, long-lasting (meaning more than 150 years at the least) buildings? Or the local baker was able to introduce exotic and nutritious staples for the health of the community?

Teaching a unit on cultural criticism really has gotten me to think about this. What are the foundations of culture? Henry Van Til argues, rightly I believe, that culture is the externalization of religion. Religion in this context, however, doesn't mean what you do on Sundays, but what guides your thought, actions, and words at the deepest level (it is unfortunate that "religion" equals "external, institutional worship"). On top of that religious underpinning, though, are a few basic things: shelter, food, clothing (a form of shelter), and companionship. Just as shelter and clothing are similar, so is food and companionship. The obvious examples in the past of friends/equals eating at table together comes to mind. Also, what holy communion should be, but don't get me started. At a more metaphorical level (and all our thinking is in metaphors), companionship literally means "to eat bread with". The artisan class makes these basic things: farmers, builders, designers, clothiers, restaurantiers, baristas, bartenders, bakers, butchers, etc.

Having been a part of the now largely defunct theonomy movement, I believe(d) in the Christian reconstruction of culture. One of the large downfalls of that movement, however, was that the jump from exegesis to policy was too quick. The long term, start-at-the-bottom attitude of many of the leaders (and yes, if you can get past the bravado, it is there) was quickly jettisoned in favor of the Religious Right. However, if Christians want to make a long term impact on society, maybe we should stop trying to legislate our religion and train our children to bake or build or pull fine shots of espresso. Maybe we have forgotten the weighter matters of the faith and law: justice, mercy, peace. Hospitality has fallen on hard times, so has our idea of communion (don't get me started). Cultural change from the top-down is the way of violent empire and the violence in unavoidable. The recalcitrant always look different from oneself, who is seen as the epitome of the imago Dei. Bottom-up, however, can be peaceful and lasting. It is not always, especially when it is co-opted by empire, but it at least has the possibility. Change your world, learn a trade.

1 comment:

Ian said...

Fabulous, fabulous post. I couldn't agree more with everything you said. That culture is the externalization of our religion, and, therefore that community is the product of Christianity, is a fact that has been sadly forgotten; God has named us the redeemers of culture. Good stuff, Russ.

Oh, and on the communion thing...I, for one, wouldn't mind a bit if you got started.